Often referred to as triple S I's, Sites of Special Scientific Interest are the building blocks of conservation that protect our most treasured and important natural habitats. Emerging from the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), a SSSI site is protected land that has been identified as being of 'special interest' due to its biological or geological features (or both). There are nearly 7,000 such sites in the UK, with around 4,100 in England, and in Yorkshire we have about 360, with 265 of these recognized as being of biological importance. Ancient woodland, hay meadows, peat bogs, grasslands, moorland, marshes, floodplains, chalk streams, estuaries and coastal stretches are all typical examples of SSSI sites.

Some of these sites are extensive in size - the North Yorks Moors and the Humber Estuary are both SSSIs, some are tiny such as Blaiskey Bank Springs (North Yorks) or White Carr Meadow (East Yorks). Large or small, they are all nationally (sometimes internationally) or locally important habitats that often support rare, declining or unique plant and animal species. So who looks after these precious places?

Nominally that would be Natural England, although in most cases they pass on this responsibility to conservation charities such as the Wildlife Trusts, local councils and private land owners. Some SSSIs are so exceptional in nature they have additional levels of protection and are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Natural England tend to take a more 'hands on' approach to such sites and Yorkshire examples include Hatfield & Thorne Moors (South Yorks), Skipwith Common (North Yorks), Lower Derwent Valley (East / North Yorks) and Flamborough Headland (East Yorks).


About 20% of the SSSIs in Yorkshire are either well known sites, such as Malham Tarn (National Trust) and Fairburn Ings (RSPB), or less familiar but nature reserves in their own right, such as Breary Marsh (Local Nature Reserve) near Leeds, and in both cases visitor access is clear. The vast majority of the remaining 200 or so SSSIs are on privately owned land with access restricted to any public footpaths or not at all. Bearing in mind that these sites are often fragile in nature and often support threatened plant and animal species, the map here is intentionally limited to the information given out by Natural England.

Header Image - Tilmire, SSSI nr York.